Virginia’s legislative elections could seal fate of 15-week abortion ban proposal

15-week ultrasound Ultrasound scan of 15 week-old baby | Allo4e4ka/Shutterstock

Virginia’s state legislative elections on Tuesday, Nov. 7, could determine the fate of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

All 40 Virginia Senate seats and all 100 Virginia House of Delegates seats will be on the ballot on Tuesday, which will determine which party controls the legislative bodies. Republicans hold a narrow 48-46 majority in the House going into Election Day, with six vacancies, and Democrats have a slim 22-18 majority in the Senate.

Abortion policy has dominated political advertisements from both sides in recent months, with Republicans arguing that a 15-week limit on abortion is a reasonable approach to the issue in the state and Democrats suggesting that Republicans want to take away access to abortion. 

“Virginia Republicans support a reasonable 15-week limit with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother,” a 30-second advertisement aired by Youngkin’s PAC Spirit of Virginia said. 

“It’s a commonsense position that most Virginians support too,” it continues. “But Virginia Democrats support no limits on abortion.”

Alternatively, a 30-second advertisement from the House Democratic Caucus accuses Republicans of wanting to outlaw abortion. 

“Defunding Planned Parenthood, a total abortion ban [with] no exceptions, women and doctors in jail,” the advertisement claims. “You don’t have to look far to know where MAGA Republicans want to take Virginia. Just look [at] what’s happening around us.”

Current laws in Virginia allow abortion up to the end of the 26th week of pregnancy, which is one of the most permissive policies in the country. In 2020, former Gov. Ralph Northam signed bills that ended a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and the mandatory pre-abortion ultrasound, which had been law for decades. 

Following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the newly elected Youngkin sought to work with lawmakers to establish some limits on abortion, but all efforts were stifled in Senate committees. This included a proposed 15-week ban and a proposed ban at the point of viability, which all Education and Health Committee Democrats opposed. Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant also opposed the 15-week ban but supported the ban at the point of viability, which occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Small number of competitive districts will determine control

Control of both chambers is still up in the air as Election Day closes in, with a handful of seats remaining competitive in both chambers, according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project

In the Senate, four seats are listed as toss-ups, three of which are held by Republicans and one that is held by a Democrat. There are another five Senate seats that “lean Democrat”: Four of those seats are held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Another four “lean Republican,” all of which are held by Republicans. 

Democrats could afford to lose one seat and retain their majority, but if Republicans flip two seats, the chamber will be split 20-20, which would give Republicans de facto control with Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears holding the tiebreaking vote in the chamber. However, a 20-20 split could still pose problems for the proposed 15-week ban with one Republican, Dunnavant, already on the record voting against it. 

For the House, seven districts are listed as toss-ups: Three are held by Republicans, three are held by Democrats, and one is vacant. Another 11 seats “lean Democrat” and another 17 “lean Republican.”

Republicans currently hold a two-seat majority. For the five remaining vacant seats, one is a strong Democratic district, two lean Democratic, and two lean Republican. Republicans had a 52-48 majority prior to the vacancies, which means they can only afford to lose one of the seats they held in the last election to retain their majority. Democrats would need to flip two seats from last election; flipping one seat would result in an evenly divided 50-50 House. 

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 7. Virginians can find where to vote on the Department of Elections’ website.

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